Following an exciting first round of the NFL playoffs, the Divisional round matches are set.
Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots
Many felt that the Tennessee Titans “did not deserve” to be in the playoffs. They had the AFC South title in hand until they lost three of their last four games, surrendering the division title to Jacksonville in the process. Few pundits gave them a chance to beat Kansas City in the Wild Card round. Rumors were abound that head coach Mike Mularkey would be fired upon their loss to the Chiefs. All that talk seemed to get to the Titans, as they went into halftime. However, the defense became impassible, knocking out (literally and figuratively) KC’s offensive superstar Travis Kelce and not allowing another point to be scored. Marcus Mariota took control of the offensive playcalling, according to ESPN, and led the team to a 22-21 victory in the team’s first playoff appearance since 2008.
They’re back in the same boat again, with no analyst giving the Titans any chance of winning, with some even calling it a “second bye week”” for the Patriots. New England’s defense has a problem stopping rushing attacks, and Derrick Henry could control the game if he exploits that. DeMarco Murray is out for the third straight week, meaning that Henry will be the main running back and likely Tennessee’s offensive catalyst.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots almost don’t need an explanation. Wide receiver Chris Hogan is expected to return after a lengthy injury, giving Brady one more target. Rob Gronkowski could have a dominant game if the Titans do not cover him properly. Safety Johnathan Cyprien has done well in covering tight ends since his return from injury, so he may get the call.
It may be the closest we get, in terms of media hype, to David vs. Goliath this postseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville came into the Wild Card round licking their wounds, having lost their last two regular season games. The Wild Card game against Buffalo was a low scoring 10-3 win for Jacksonville. Quarterback Blake Bortles, long maligned for being overrated, rushed for more yards than he threw.
That’ll be hard to do against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will likely look to harass Bortles and force him to throw bad passes.
The Steelers have all their offensive weapons back. LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown could easily overpower the high-energy Jacksonville defense.
Jacksonville’s end-of-season slump needs to end if they want to keep playing in January.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta stops in Philly on their redemption tour. They outclassed the high-flying LA Rams offense by doubling their score en route to a 26-13 victory in the Wild Card round.
Philadelphia is without their starting QB and possible MVP Carson Wentz, but it seems that Nick Foles has settled back into his role as the starter.
The Eagles offense can easily take control of the game with their dynamic rushing and passing attack, while the Falcons will likely lean on the Matt Ryan-Julio Jones connection to set the pace.
New Orleans Saints vs. Minnesota Vikings
The combination of Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram proved too much for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Carolina looked out of the game, down 21-9 in the third quarter. They managed to rally in the fourth quarter, but a concussion to Cam Newton was the backbreaking straw for the Panthers’ chances. New Orleans stopped the rally and advanced after a 31-26 win.
New Orleans now looks forward to Minnesota. The Vikings are led by Case Keenum, a career backup quarterback who took control of the offense after Sam Bradford’s season ending injury and dominated the NFC North.
Bradford has been activated for this game, however, so the Vikings may use both quarterbacks in the game, or will use Bradford to backup Keenum.
The Vikings defense will likely look to stifle the two-headed rushing attack of Ingram and Kamara. Even if they can shut down the rushing attack, Drew Brees is still capable of an amazing performance.